My neighbour, cancer

Like living next door to this

As a writer, I strive for accuracy. So it’s been a bit of a struggle to find the right expression to describe my life since prostate surgery six months ago. Am I living with cancer? No, the cancer is out of me. Does that make me a cancer survivor? Well, no, the cancer could always come back, although the longer I go without cancer reoccurring, the less likelihood it will.

So when expressions fail, as a writer, I turn to metaphor.

I’ve decided that my cancer is a thermonuclear warhead in my neighbour’s backyard. It just shows up one day. Before then, he was a quiet neighbour, lived a moderate lifestyle, not someone you’d think would bring home a thermonuclear device. Indeed there were no warning signs that a weapon of mass destruction was ever in the offing.

Not content to simply have a warhead in his backyard, the neighbour sometimes pulls out a ladder, climbs to the top of the warhead and whacks it with a giant hammer like some kind of crazed Looney-Tunes character. Or he takes some other tools and rips open panels marked “DO NOT OPEN! THREAT OF DETONATION! KABOOM!” Sometimes the warhead hums and buzzes, with the occasional ticking sound.

And the thing is, I don’t even notice! I have no idea my neighbour has a thermonuclear warhead in the backyard until one day I go see the police for another matter, and they say, “Oh, by the way, we think your neighbour might have a thermonuclear warhead. We’re going to check.” They check. “Yup, that’s a thermonuclear warhead, all right. We’ll take care of it.”

Weeks go by, and I can think of nothing but the fact that there’s an armed thermonuclear warhead next door. Eventually, though, the police disable the nuclear warhead. They strip it of all the parts that can cause it to explode (which would be bad for the neighbourhood, I assume it goes without saying) and take away all the neighbour’s tools for good measure.

What a relief!

“Problem solved,” the police say, and I am filled with gratitude.

And yet they leave the warhead itself behind.

“Don’t worry, we’ll check in from time to time,” they say.

“But what if he starts tinkering with it again?” I protest. “What if he orders replacement kaboom parts? Gets new tools?”

“Well,” the police say, “we hope not.” And they’re off.

So now, six months later, I’m still living next door to a thermonuclear warhead, albeit a dormant one.

But the police do one more thing before they go: they take away my tools as well.

No more woodworking for me.

“It’s a small price to pay, no? Better than being blown to bits by a thermonuclear warhead?”

“Better than being blown…?”

“To bits, yes. You’re welcome.”

I really liked woodworking. Maybe I wasn’t woodworking as much as I was in my twenties, but I sure enjoyed it. Sometimes, even when I wasn’t woodworking, I would spend time thinking about woodworking. Sometimes I just whittled a little.

“Are my woodworking days really over?” I ask the police.

“Well, with any luck, you might be able to woodwork in a year or two, but it’s very possible you’ll never woodwork again. But, hey! We got rid of that thermonuclear warhead for you!”

“But it’s still there,” I point out.

“It’s fine. Probably. Also: have you ever tried working with Play-Doh?”

So that’s how I live my life now: next door to a neighbour with a dormant thermonuclear warhead, and no more woodworking. Most days, I don’t think about any of it, just go about my business. But then I’ll catch site of my neighbour pensively fiddling with electronics. Or I’ll see a nice piece of knotty pine. And then I remember. That’s my life with and without cancer.

All I can hope is that over time my neighbour will become increasingly bored with the thermonuclear warhead in his backyard and that his trips out back to tinker with it, get it humming again, will become less and less frequent until one day he forgets about it altogether.

Eventually, the warhead will start to rust and crumble and will no long pose any kind of threat. By that time, of course, I likely would have retired from semi-regular woodworking anyway, or at very least only be working with softwoods.

That’ll probably be when the meteor strikes the house. But that’s a metaphor for another time.

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About rossmurray1

I'm Canadian so I pronounce it "Aboot." No, I don't! I don't know any Canadian who says "aboot." Damnable lies! But I do know this Canadian is all about humour (with a U) and satire. Come by. I don't bite, or as we Canadians say, "beet."
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51 Responses to My neighbour, cancer

  1. This is a brilliant description.

  2. Claudette says:

    Ok so it took me a minute to figure out the woodworking angle. LOL…This was really clever! 🙂

  3. pinklightsabre says:

    Good one. Hard to resist the woodworking and whittling themes, right?! Hard to resist.

  4. Where is Emily Post when you need her? How to respond to this brilliant piece of writing so that I can acknowledge both the past but lingering threat of cancer and the clever turn of self-mocking phrase?

    “Better than being blown…?”

    Is this where someone might say, “That’s what she said?”

  5. Such inventive writing! Funny, touching, and very thought-provoking.

  6. Excellent 🙂 ! But now I’ll blush every time I pass a lumberyard. I always did think those IKEA assembly diagrams were awfully suggestive, those scandalous Swedes and their tongue-and-groove joints.

  7. You are The Master of Metaphor Ross Murray. And you have a gift for tackling the most difficult subject matter humorously without reducing the serious impact of the situation. Are you working on a book? Hope so…I enjoyed Hole in the Ground and can’t imagine that another effort would not be even more enjoyable.

    • rossmurray1 says:

      I began work on a sort of sequel but ended up putting it aside. I’ve just finished directing an original script (well, it plays one more weekend) so that’s taken up some time. Plus, it was kind of a tough winter, which never ended. All this to say I’m not sure what’s next but it’ll be something.

  8. Nadine says:

    I think you may have “blown” your cover here Ross. At least you still can woodwork us all with words. Does that make us knotty pine?

  9. That is such an awesome metaphor. My mom is going to adore this post. She is a cancer survivor too. Congrats on the play by the way!

  10. List of X says:

    I suppose you could still watch the abundant online videos of professional woodworkers and beeches being very knotty.

  11. ksbeth says:

    how much woodworked a woodchuck chuck? similar to the mind-numbing question of the eternal chicken and egg inquiry.

  12. Anna Harris says:

    Great, Post.

  13. lashawn363 says:

    i like everything about your post

  14. I hope you never have to go through what you did again. I lost my little cousin to cancer and I realize it would take tremendous effort to find humor in the battle for life. I gawk at your ability to do it. You inspire me to be hopeful and to take light. Thank you. Beautiful, thought provoking metaphors!

  15. Thanks for posting this, i also have a wacky neighbor. smh

  16. I have had the same problem. Thank you for putting it so well. By the way. Does anyone know how to sharpen a chisel? Mines gone blunt.

  17. cat9984 says:

    Definitely understand the angst. My husband was dealing with bladder cancer just prior to your ordeal. Unfortunately, his came back. Best wishes – the odds really are in your favor. (And I’ve also heard that woodworking has returned as a hobby for many former patients.)

  18. Playing catch-up with folks this morning. Good to see your writing is as good as ever. Not that I thought it’d deteriorate in my absence but still good to see.

    Good Avengers recap. That cat’s head is too tiny for its body.

  19. he bro its where good! love it

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